Recent Commonplace Entries


Mixing Computer Science and Commercial Evangelism

“We have a duty to ensure that the Web serves humanity, and all of humanity. . . . The Foundation is not just concerned with the numbers of people using the Web, but also with what sort of web it is – is it open, non-discriminatory, private and available to all, including minorities and women? Is it a propagating medium for truth and understanding, or more so for untruth and discord? Can these parameters be changed?” (Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in Christ Church Matters, Hilary Term)                                                                                                                                                         “Facebook’s next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all. . . .  There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course. Giving everyone a voice has historically been a very positive force for public discourse because it increased the diversity of ideas shared. But the past year has also shown it may fragment our shared sense of reality.” (Mark Zuckerberg, in Facebook manifesto Building Global Community, quoted by Farhad Manjoo in NYT Magazine, April 30)

“Historians plunder memoirs for quotations and condemn them for inaccuracy. Rarely do they study them in their own right.” (Paul Seaward in History Today, April)

“When success comes to an American writer, Martin Amis once observed, it changes his life; when success comes to an English writer, he might nervously buy a new filing-cabinet. When success comes to an Arab writer, his face appears on postage stamps.” (D. J. Taylor on Naguib Mahfouz, in TLS, April 28)

“‛As anti-Zionism may often disguise anti-Semitism,’ [Julian] Barnes says in the same piece,’ so Europhobia proves a handy disguise for wider xenophobia.’ By that argument, the dislike of anything at all can be seen as a disguise for dislike of something else.” (from letter from Rosie Brocklehurst in London Review of Books, May 4)

“This is how confused liberals work; they don’t know their own minds until reality hits them with a misfortune or a piece of good luck, and then they go scurrying for the ship’s supplies like a horde of disabused rats.” (Jeremy Harding, in review of R. W. Johnson’s Look Back in Laughter:  Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age, in London Review of Books, May 4)

“I wish Britons hadn’t voted for Brexit, which will make Europe weaker and their own country poorer. But E.U. officials are sounding more and more like a jilted spouse determined to extract maximum damages in a divorce settlement. And this is just plain insane. Like it or not, Europe will have to live with post-Brexit Britain, and Greece-style bullying just isn’t going to work on a nation as big, rich and proud as the U.K.” (Paul Krugman, in NYT, May 5)

“In fiction one is bound to tell the truth, whereas in travel writing one can make things up.” (Rory Maclean in Pictures of You, quoted by Joanna Kavenna in TLS review, May 5)

“And I know that an attitude of moral indignation is peculiarly ineffective in bringing about a change of heart in others. On the contrary, it is an ideal excuse for cruelty.” (Professor J. B. S. Haldane, in foreword to Professor J. Lange’s Crime as Destiny, quoted by Charlotte Haldane in Truth Will Out, p 29)

“The intelligentsia of the Left were the loudest in demanding that the Nazi aggression should be resisted at all costs; when it comes to a showdown, scarce four weeks have passed before they remember that they are pacifists and write defeatist letters to your columns, leaving the defence of Freedom to Colonel Blimp and the Old School Tie, for whom three cheers.” (John Maynard Keynes, on 14 October, 1939, quoted by Joel Greenberg in Gordon Welchman, p 11)

“Colm Toibin once said that there’s no greater joy than correcting someone else’s French. Following that, there’s probably no greater joy than in criticizing someone else’s playlist.” (Dwight Garner, in NYT, May 17)

“I have been slow to acknowledge Sheila Fitzpatrick’s kind remarks about my edited volume Historically Inevitable?, on the Russian Revolution (LRB, 30 March). But I was brought up short by her reference to my ‘free-market triumphalism’ over the demise of communism. Would she similarly accuse me of ‘round earth triumphalism’ over the lack of people who now believe that the earth is flat?” (Letter from Tony Brenton in London Review of Books, May 18)

“The whole thing is tempered by the ‘good-natured assumption’ that Rosemary Hill identified in Cooper’s Class, that ‘everyone is a snob about something and to that extent we are all ridiculous’.” (Ian Patterson in review of Jilly Cooper’s Mount! in London Review of Books, May 18)

Cricket Attire

“If you are playing for the old Crundonians, you may wear a Forester scarf, an Incog blazer, an IZ sweater, a Nondescript belt, but the one thing you must not wear is anything Old Crundonian.” (cartoon by Fougasse, according to D. J. Taylor in the New Book of Snobs, p 55)                                                                                “Here [Lord’s] young men play their few ritual matches for Middlesex on their way from a  degree to stockbroking, medicine, or the Church, and they play in the Harlequin, Quidnunc, Free Foresters or I Zingari caps sanctioned by custom.” (John Arlott, in The Coloured Counties, from The Echoing Green, p 32)

“Weliczker Wells reflected more generally on life under Soviet rule [in Lwów], noting: ‘All of us began to have new “values” in life. Being “happy” could now mean you had a successful day in the sugar queue, or that you had not been interrupted by the police during the night. Above all, we were satisfied as long as the family was together.’” (Christoph Mick, in essay in Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928-1953, edited by Timothy Snyder and Ray Brandon, p 146)

Lesson for Brexit?

“Over the next few years, the CMEA [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance] countries (especially those contiguous with Yugoslavia) steadily escalated their economic warfare against Yugoslavia and tightened their bilateral sanctions. This mounting economic pressure, however, ultimately came to naught. Yugoslavia turned to the West and to the Third World for economic assistance and trade (including supplies of energy, raw materials, and spare parts), and Tito successfully rebuffed Moscow’s attempts to force Yugoslavia to pay for hundreds of millions of rubles’ worth of aid supposedly provided by the Soviet Union in the first few years after the war.” (Mark Kramer, in essay in Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928-1953, edited by Timothy Snyder and Ray Brandon, p 297)

Helpful Insights from Academia: No 179 in a series

“Choosing an African to head W.H.O. was past time. And Britain is in the doghouse for choosing Brexit and undermining global stability — it’s their Guantánamo, their Tiananmen.” (Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa expert on law and global health, quoted in NYT, May 24)

“I do not believe there has ever been an historian who has not exhibited some amount of partisanship; it is a common infirmity of the tribe.” (Herbert Asquith, in Hansard, 30 June, 1899, quoted by Ian Cobain in The History Thieves, p 140)

Making Your Vote Count

“At the International Geological Congress in South Africa last summer, 20.5 of the Anthropocene Working Group’s 35 members voted in favour of calling the Anthropocene an ‘epoch’. There were two votes each for ‘era’ and ‘age’, 1.5 for ‘period’ and one each for ‘sub-epoch’ and ‘none’; three members were ‘uncertain’ and four abstained.” (Jenny Turner in London Review of Books, June 1)

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